In mid-July, about 30 musicians will give up their vacation from the Arts and Communications School of the University of São Paulo (ECA/USP), to bury themselves away in Prados, a small town 500 kilometers from the São Paulo capital, in the interior of Minas Gerais. For 16 days, they will be part of the locality. They will offer recitals, they will play with some of the 7,700 inhabitants, and they will give music lessons to people who are interested. The events will be free of charge, in a symbiotic interaction between the population and the musicians from outside.
Between one activity and another, they will swap information about ancient sacred musical pieces written by blacks and mulattos, kept in the archives of the old bands from Minas Gerais. Even today, it is possible to find rarities from the 18th century that have not been played for 200 years. In Prados, a part of Brazilian colonial life will come back to life.It will not be the first time. The Prados Music Festival has been taking place annually since 1977, always with the same spirit of integration between visitors and residents. None of the musicians is paid to take part.
FAPESP funds the major part of the travel and lodging costs of the students and professors, but there is nothing like the publicity that other festivals have. In fact, there is no publicity at all. The event is known only among a few students and members of the teaching staff at USP and in a few of Prados’ neighboring towns, like São João del-Rei and Tiradentes. “This is perhaps the only music festival in which the population has a real interaction with the musicians”, says maestro Olivier Toni, a full professor (retired today) and one of the founders of ECA’s Music Department (1970). He also helped to create the São Paulo Chamber Orchestra (1956), the São Paulo Young Municipal Symphony Orchestra (1968), the São Paulo Municipal Music School (1969), the USP Symphony Orchestra (1972), and the USP Chamber Orchestra (1995). It was Toni who came up with idea of the event in Prado, and even today is its main driving force.
Discovering the town in Minas was a result of the researcher’s curiosity. The maestro and some students were visiting São João del-Rei in 1974 when they decided to consult the collection of the São João Lyre Society. The institution has a musical archive with a great quantity of originals and copies of religious works produced in the region, and even a good collection from other cities in the country, from the times of Brazil the Colony. Surprised with the excellence of the material they found, the group asked the institution for authorization to microfilm whatever they could. In those days, Toni’s team would always carry portable microfilming equipment in the trunk of the car, when they hid themselves away on exploratory missions over Minas Gerais, in search of little known originals. They would never know what they would find in churches and secular societies, and it was just as well for them to be always ready, so as not to lose their journey.
When they asked where there was more 18th century music like the music found in the São João Lyre Society, the indication was Prados, 26 kilometers away from there. The researcher arrived at the town with ten pupils and found maestro Ademar Campos Filho, who was in charge of the band and responsible for the archives. “In Easter Week, he would take that ancient music to the processions and play it”, Toni says. Campos showed them documents and pieces by José Joaquim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita (1746-1805) and Manoel Dias de Oliveira (1764-1837), among others, and it was all microfilmed. After three days of conversations and researches, Toni suggested to Campos holding the festival, an idea that was promptly accepted.
“I wanted to do an event for people to take part, and not just listen and pay for doing so”, says the maestro, pointing out that it is difficult to find a family in Prados that does not have one musician in it. “The project is to play for the people, to play together with them, and to have them play on their own.” Toni and his pupils give lessons in harmony and music in general, explain the particularities of the instruments, and, at the end of the festival, stage a short play. This year, the theme is to center on the town’s 300th anniversary. In all, each year the musicians from São Paulo work with 200 inhabitants, of which half are children. Two concerts a week are given. They all prefer to play in one of the two churches in the town, particularly in the Rosary church, the ancient church for the slaves, at the end of the 18th century.
“It is there that the harpsichord is, and the acoustics are exceptional, without any reverberation”, Toni says. The closing concert takes place at Saint Anthony’s Cathedral. The festival’s program is almost always baroque music, which includes the Brazilian colonial repertoire with overwhelming frequency.In these 26 years of the festival, it has been possible to discover some young talents, the majority of them playing today in Brazilian orchestras.
Prominent musicians and researchers have already been to Prados with Toni, like Sílvio Ferraz, Willy Corrêa de Oliveira, Alex Klein, Rubens Ricciard, José Eduardo Martins, and Roberto Mincvuk. The town is attractive, because it makes it possible to play, to teach, and to do research. The team under Toni’s command microfilmed, for the first time, musical archives from several other towns from Minas Gerais, such as Piranga, Aiuruoca, and Itabira, and from towns in São Paulo, like Pindamonhangaba.
Sometimes, these studies give rise to surprising discoveries, which take time to be accepted. One of the most important concerns the most remote period in which sacred music was written in Brazil. Up until the 1940’s, it was held to be certain that Father José Maurício Nunes Garcia (1767-1830) was the first Brazilian composer. According to all the specialists, Father José Maurício, a mulatto from Rio de Janeiro and the father of five children, was a great composer. Mário de Andrade regarded his Requiem Mass as “the masterpiece of Brazilian religious music”.
“In the 18th century, it was freed slaves that used to write and perform music”, Olivier Toni explains. As, in general, white Brazilians and Portuguese did nothing (and were proud of it), blacks and mulattos found a way of earning some money by playing their sacred music in church and at religious events. This was also used by the Negroes as an attempt to win a certain consideration in society (there were no possibilities of importing artists from Europe the whole time). “They would write a sui generis European music, very characteristic of the colonies. It was simpler, but spontaneous”, the researcher notes. “Be that as it may, it had to be as similar as possible to European music, that is to say, to the music of their former masters.” Unless it were like that, it would not be accepted.
The first composer
The man to overturn the myth that Father José Maurício was the first Brazilian composer was Francisco Curt Lange (1903-1997), a German researcher, naturalized Uruguayan, who worked intensively in the Brazilian hinterland. In 1944, on one of his travels through the country, he acquired a small batch of musical scores in the state of Minas Gerais. Among them, he came across an Antiphony of Our Lady, by Lobo de Mesquita. To start with, Curt Lange thought he was dealing with the work of some Portuguese author and decided to investigate. In the old days, it was common for churches to keep the documents of those who were born and died – and Lange ended up discovering that Lobo de Mesquita had been baptized in a church where only mulattos were registered. “Thanks to Curt Lange, Brazilian musicology went back 40 years, and it became clear that there were other composers before Father José Maurício”, says Toni.
Even with this proof, the German researcher was much contested. Until, in 1958, historian and musicologist Régis Duprat, today a full professor at ECA, found in the “Alberto Lamego” collection of the Brazilian Studies Institute (IEB/USP), the original manuscripts of a Recitative and aria, dated 1759. Written in Bahia by an anonymous composer, the work was profane and, more astonishingly, had its text sung in Portuguese. It had been dedicated to an authority sent to Brazil by the Marquis of Pombal. “The work is magnificent, written for voice, violin and double bass, and its composer was perhaps Father Caetano Mello de Jesus”, says Toni, who gave it its debut in 1960. With this discovery by Duprat, the polemics ended for good. The Recitative and aria had been composed even before Father José Maurício was born.
The death of sacred music
Religious music started to die with the Brazilian Independence of in 1822. With it, the chapels of music became extinct, which was a function of the Church for producing and playing sacred music with the objective of accompanying the religious services. With Independence, the musician had to start to live more and more with profane music, quitting the practice of religious music. “The definitive separation between State and Church altered the conception in force until 1822. This is an interesting phenomenon, which occurred after the independences of almost all the Latin American nations”, Toni says.
If it depends on this conductor, professor, researcher, and musician (he was a bassoonist), Brazilian sacred works will not be forgotten. “I have an enormous fascination for religious music, because it allows the composer to identify himself within an enormous range of expressiveness in one and the same piece”, he says. Both the mass and the religious works put to music make for some great moments: they begin tranquil, get quicker, become introspective, and, in the case of masses, end sweetly in peace with God. Such a passion is sufficient reason for making atheist Olivier Toni, at the age of 78, garner pupils to hide themselves away, every year, in colonial Prados, to make and to listen to music inside its churches.Republish